Juggling work life and home life can be daunting for working mothers. For parents working in the healthcare sector, those pressures are often exacerbated by the doctor shortage, length of shifts, and the sheer number of patients. Fortunately, loosening scope-of-practice laws for nurses and expanding telehealth options potentially offers some relief for working parents in the health care sector.
Although male doctors outnumber female doctors, there are significantly more female nurses than male nurses. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 82 percent of nurse practitioners are female while the remainder are male or do not identify as either gender.
One-third of all employed women have children under 18, based on 2018 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. That is a considerable amount of the workforce!
With those percentages in mind, it is important to recognize that many nurses have children at home.
But why does it matter that so many nurses have kids? Nurse burnout is a significant problem in the health care industry. Due to staff shortages exacerbated by the pandemic, nurses are asked to fill many roles. But even as the shift ends, the work does not: as they return home, children must still be cared for.
Expanding scope-of-practice laws to encompass telehealth offers a potential reprieve. As Sally Pipes wrote in a recent op-ed, “more than 8 in 10 [patients] support allowing nurse practitioners to provide the full extent of care, including through telehealth.”
Fixing scope-of-practice laws would give nurses the ability to work with increased autonomy through telehealth, setting up their own practices, or creating their own schedules for meeting with patients. If nurses had more autonomy, the flexibility would allow for schedules crafted toward their individual child-care constraints.
Work-from-home options allow nurses to save commuting time which gives them more time to spend with their families. Breastfeeding nurses who take long, 12-hour shifts away from babies will likely find breastfeeding more challenging long-term. But virtual positions could help new mothers breastfeed for longer. Overall, such positions just offer a greater degree of flexibility that parenthood often requires.
Furthermore, many stay-at-home moms find part-time jobs to do during the children’s naps or pre-school hours. Mothers who have nursing credentials but who do not work any longer could perhaps be incentivized to pick up a part-time position if flexible telehealth positions were made more readily available.
Obviously, not all nursing can be done virtually. But some aspects such as outpatient check-ups, psychiatric care, paperwork, internal meetings, simple diagnoses, and prescriptions can be done via telehealth. Research by McKinsey & Company estimated that “$250 billion of current US healthcare spending could potentially be virtualized.”
I was able to sit down and chat with two different nurses regarding their thoughts on virtual, working from home options. Emma Richards, a current nursing student who hopes to be a mother soon, looks forward to the upcoming changes in the nursing industry, “honestly, I am all for it because you can work from home and have more flexibility. When I am a new mom, I could take shorter shifts.”
Allison Pineda, a registered nurse who manages the labor and delivery floor in her hospital, weathered the brunt of the pandemic nightmare. Throughout the crisis, she took shifts from 3am – 12pm, then went home to watch her children while her husband left home to start his shift at work from 12pm – 8pm. Many nurses could not find childcare during the pandemic and had to quit, take leave, or reduce hours. She estimated that around 75% of the nurses she manages have kids.
When asked what she thinks of telehealth options, she explained, “I would love to be able to work from home. But many patients need hands-on care. And nursing from home doesn’t make tons of money unless you have a higher degree.”
Allison’s situation shows that telehealth is not necessarily the silver bullet for all mothers working in the healthcare industry. But one size does not fit all. Options give power and would enable many nurses to provide service more effectively in the already strained healthcare market.
McKenzie Richards is a policy associate for the Pacific Research Institute.